AFRICANS LIVING IN AN AUSTRIAN ZOO, 1896: An Introduction to Black Austrian Studies

Date: 27 Feb - 27 Feb 2024
Time: 16:00 - 17:15
Venue: Galbraith Seminar Room

A seminar by Dr Clemens Ruthner (TCD)  as a part of the School of Languages, Literatures and Cultural Studies Seminar Series (SLLCS).

The School of Languages, Literatures and Cultural Studies Seminar Series (SLLCS) promotes Literary and Cultural Studies, including political and social thought, narratology and imagology, film, textual and visual studies, questions surrounding language learning and translation studies, and also practice-led research. 


The Asante are not only one of the West African tribal nations in present Ghana that were able to resist British colonization in the 19th century for a long time. They also play a prominent role in Viennese modernism around 1900, which my lecture will analyse.
In the summer and fall of 1896, around 70 Africans were forced to live in a village set up for them in a private zoo in Vienna. Their everyday lives were put on display for the paying public - a striking example of the highly problematic nature of contemporary Völkerschauen and the underlying inhumane and voyeuristic racism of the colonial era.
The presence of African people not only stimulated contemporary exoticism (but rarely critique!) and set in motion unparalleled racist fantasies in the Viennese press (which revolved obsessively around sexuality); it also called the author-bohemian Peter Altenberg (1859-1919) onto the scene. He published his volume Ashantee in 1897. In 32 impressionistic "sketches", the auto-fictional narrator accompanies the “Ashanti” as a permanent visitor until their departure. He criticizes the merchandizing of the Black people, but at the same time provides instruction on the 'seduction' of 'innocent African nature' by the “average (European) man”.
It is precisely this contradictory movement of the text and the discourses that run through it (nature-culture, human rights, gender, sexuality etc.) that will be revealed. The central research question is: to what extent the the humanist commitment only doubles the colonial exploitation in the aestheticization of the Black body to camouflage sexual obsession?
With this lecture, I would also like to introduce my forthcoming anthology Black Austrian Studies (Oxford: Lang 2024, Central European Culture series), which aims to close this gap in the discourse of Austrian Studies worldwide.

Dr Clemens Ruthner is an Assistant Professor in German and Central European Studies and the Director of Trinity’s Centre for European Studies. His latest monograph on ‘Postcolonial’ readings of imperial Austrian literature is entitled Habsburg’s Dark Continent (2018).
Please indicate if you have any access requirements, such as ISL/English interpreting, so that we can facilitate you in attending this event. Contact:  and

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